Pancreatic transcription factors and their role in the birth, life and survival of the pancreatic beta cell

Andreia S. Bernardo, Colin W. Hay, Kevin Docherty

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

153 Citations (Scopus)


In recent years major progress has been made in understanding the role of transcription factors in the development of the endocrine pancreas in the mouse. Here we describe how a number of these transcription factors play a role in maintaining the differentiated phenotype of the beta cell, and in the mechanisms that allow the beta cell to adapt to changing metabolic demands that occur throughout life. Amongst these factors, Pdx1 plays a critical role in defining the region of the primitive gut that will form the pancreas, Ngn3 expression drives cells towards an endocrine lineage, and a number of additional proteins including Pdx1, in a second wave of expression, Pax4, NeuroD1/beta 2, and MafA act as beta cell differentiation factors. In the mature beta cell Pdx1, MafA, beta 2, and Nkx2.2 play important roles in regulating expression of insulin and to some extent other genes responsible for maintaining beta cell function. We emphasise here that data from gene expression studies in rodents seldom map on to the known structure of the corresponding human promoters. In the adult the beta cell is particularly susceptible to autoimmune-mediated attack and to the toxic metabolic milieu associated with over-eating, and utilises a number of these transcription factors in its defence. Pdx1 has anti-apoptotic and proliferative activities that help facilitate the maintenance of beta cell mass, while Ngn3 may be involved in the recruitment of progenitor cells, and Pax4 (and possibly HNF1 alpha and Hnf4 alpha) in the proliferation of beta cells in the adult pancreas. Other transcription factors with a more widespread pattern of expression that play a role in beta cell survival or proliferation include Foxo1, CREB family members, NFAT, FoxM1, Snail and Asc-2. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular and Cellular Endocrinology
Issue number1-2
Early online date22 Jul 2008
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2008


  • diabetes mellitus
  • islets of Langerhans
  • PDX-1
  • Ngn3
  • insulin gene
  • pluripotent stemcells
  • amyloid polypeptide gene
  • human insulin promoter
  • progenitor cells
  • endocrine pancreas
  • glucokinase gene
  • fate specification
  • MAFA expression
  • adult pancreas
  • rat pancreas


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